President Assists Alaskans in Combating Climate Change

02 September 2015 | The White House News Release

President will announce a Federal coordinator for building climate resilience in Alaska, launch a remote Alaskan Communities Energy Efficiency Competition, and announce a city-led public-private partnership to achieve 99.7 percent clean energy on Kodiak Island…

Climate change is real, it is being driven by human activity, and it is happening right now—and nowhere is that more apparent than in Alaska, which is warming twice as fast as the continental United States. In Arctic Alaska, villages are being damaged by powerful storm surges, which once held at bay by sea ice, are battering the barrier islands where those villages sit. Alaska Native traditions that have set the rhythm of life in Alaska for thousands of years are being upended by decreasing sea-ice cover and changing seasonal patterns. Permafrost is melting, opening up sinkholes and causing damage to homes and infrastructure.

President Obama is committed to leading the fight against climate change by curbing the carbon pollution that is driving global warming, building resilience in American communities to the climate impacts we can no longer avoid, and driving progress on the international stage.

Today in Kotzebue, Alaska, the President will announce a robust package of new commitments to respond to the unique challenges facing remote Alaskan communities by:

  • Building resilience to climate impacts
  • Addressing high energy costs by incentivizing clean energy and energy-efficiency solutions
  • Releasing new climate data, maps, and tools to help communities understand and prepare for future climate change

Building Climate Resilience In Remote Alaskan Communities:

Announcing a Federal coordinator for building climate resilience in Alaska. The White House will announce that the Denali Commission will play a lead coordination role for Federal, State and Tribal resources to assist communities in developing and implementing both short- and long-term solutions to address the impacts of climate change, including coastal erosion, flooding, and permafrost degradation. The Denali Commission will serve as a one-stop-shop for matters relating to coastal resilience in Alaska as appropriate. The Commission, an independent federal agency, was established in 1998 to provide critical utilities, infrastructure, and economic support throughout Alaska with a focus on Alaska’s remote communities. The Commission will collaborate with the State of Alaska local and Tribal agencies to facilitate coordination of federal engagement in efforts to protect communities, and conduct voluntary relocation or other managed retreat efforts. The Arctic Executive Steering Committee (AESC), established by President Obama in January 2015, will provide guidance and support these efforts as appropriate, as part of its mission to enhance coordination of U.S. government activities in the Arctic, help set priorities across diverse missions and programs, and provide the basis for a whole-of-government approach to the future of the Arctic.

Beyond the broader mitigation and resilience work of the Denali Commission, the Commission will announce today that it is committing $2 million to support voluntary relocation efforts, where appropriate, and other resilience strategies for vulnerable rural Alaskan communities.

These steps build on the Administration’s support to date for the Denali Commission. The President’s FY 2016 Budget requested $14 million for the Denali Commission, and the President calls on Congress to provide sufficient funding for the Commission’s critical activities and looks forward to working with Congress, the Commission, Alaska elected officials and stakeholders to further enhance the Commission’s effectiveness and impact for rural Alaskan communities.

Announcing Department of Agriculture (USDA) grants to improve rural Alaska water systems. Responding to a key recommendation of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, USDA will finalize a rule that revises definitions and eligibility of the Rural Alaska Villages Grant Program so that in certain circumstances water system conditions do not have to be “dire” before assistance can be provided. As a result, vulnerable Alaskan villages will not have to wait until disaster strikes to improve critical water infrastructure. This unlocks significant resources for resilience planning. To that end, today, USDA will announce that it will provide $15.9 million in new grants for 17 projects as part of the Rural Alaska Villages Grant Program, which helps remote Alaskan villages provide safe, reliable drinking water and waste-disposal systems for households and businesses. Separately, EPA’s programs will provide resources for the construction of new or improved drinking water and wastewater systems in Native and rural communities, and for training and technical assistance on Operations & Maintenance (O&M) for these systems. USDA planning and construction grants will be awarded to the following communities:

  • Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium: $425,000
  • Adak: $1,269,750
  • Angoon: $52,500
  • Diomede: $183,750
  • False Pass: $45,000
  • Grayling: $52,500
  • Kaltag: $37,500
  • Kasaan: $37,500
  • Kiana: $273,750
  • Kotzebue: $56,250
  • Nunam Iqua: $112,800
  • Old Harbor: $18,750
  • South Naknek: $60,000
  • Eek: $4,290,600
  • State of Alaska: $425,000
  • Kwethluk: $2,218,500
  • Akiachak: $6,378,750

Releasing a compendium of Federal resilience programs for Alaskan communities. Today, the AESC will release a catalog of programs and funding resources that may assist Arctic coastal communities in addressing resilience needs. While a variety of programs and authorities are available for villages and communities to prepare for and respond to coastal erosion issues, no compendium of available sources of assistance existed that is tailored to the needs of Arctic communities. To fill that gap, Federal agencies, through the AESC, have collaborated to develop this catalog, which is available through the Denali Commission and on the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit.

Investing in capacity in remote tribal communities. USDA intends to sign cooperative agreements totaling $240,000 with four Native nonprofit organizations in western Alaska, charged with extending the reach of USDA staff and improving access of hard-to-reach populations to USDA Rural Development programs—including housing, community facilities, wastewater systems, and broadband. Cooperative agreements will be made with each of the following regions:

  • Northwest Arctic Region: Maniilaq Association, headquartered in Kotzebue – $37,000
  • Bering Straits Region: Kawerak Inc, headquartered in Nome – $46,000
  • Yukon Kuskokwim Delta Region: Association of Village council Presidents, headquartered in Bethel- $120,000
  • Bristol Bay Region: Bristol Bay Native Association, headquartered in Dillingham – $37,000

Launching Resilience AmeriCorps in Alaska. The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the Department of Energy (DOE), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have partnered with The Rockefeller Foundation and Cities of Service to launch Resilience AmeriCorps, a pilot program that will recruit, train, and embed AmeriCorps VISTA members in 10 communities throughout the United States. Among the communities selected for the 2-year pilot program is Anchorage, AK. Resilience AmeriCorps responds to a recommendation made by the President’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience to assist vulnerable communities that lack the capacity to address climate-resilience planning and implementation.

Developing equitable and responsible principles for relocation. In response to the recommendations of the State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Change Preparedness and Resilience, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is developing a set of cross-agency principles for climate-related relocation and managed retreat from high-risk areas in the United States. These principles will strengthen the consideration of equity and other issues when using HUD funds for voluntary relocation of communities. Additionally, as part of outreach for this effort, HUD, in compliance with its Tribal Government-to-Government Consultation Policy, will engage with Arctic coastal villages as a model for fostering future collaboration with other regions, and will engage in an ongoing dialogue with the Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group on the process.

Enhancing community-based monitoring. NOAA contributed nearly $300,000 for a project to foster adaptation in Alaska Native coastal communities to maintain or improve their health and vitality over time by anticipating and adapting to change. The project, Resilient Alaska Native Coastal Communities: Integrated Social-ecological Monitoring and Assessment Supporting Adaptation Decisions, will continue for two years in partnership with the Alaska Institute for Justice, Alaska Native Science Commission, University of Alaska, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, and the University of Victoria. In August, the Alaska Institute for Justice began designing a community-based social-ecological monitoring and assessment methodology that will be used and implemented by Alaska Native communities.

Providing guidance for tribal disaster declarations. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will soon commence consultation on pilot guidance for tribes to request Stafford Act declarations. The pilot guidance is intended to reflect the unique circumstances that impact tribal communities. In order to reflect tribal sovereignty, the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013 amended the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to provide Federally-recognized Tribal governments the option to request a Presidential emergency or major disaster declaration. FEMA will utilize lessons learned and feedback received during the consultation period to inform the final pilot guidance.

Recommending how to reduce vulnerabilities in Tribal energy systems. DOE’s Office of Indian Energy is releasing a report on Tribal Energy System Vulnerabilities to Climate Change, which focuses on impacts to energy systems that support Tribal communities. This report furthers the President’s and the Secretary’s goals of preparing the United States and Tribal Nations for the impacts of climate change by building stronger and safer communities through awareness and education. The report includes a focus on Alaskan communities.

Engaging Tribal youth in climate solutions. The EPA’s Indian Environmental General Assistance Program (IGAP) and the Arctic Council, through a grant provided to the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, is releasing a Local Environmental Observer (LEO) App, which will allow observers to share photos and text from the field, complete with GPS locations. The LEO Network provides a model for engaging communities and connecting with technical experts and resources to allow communities to monitor, respond to, and adapt to new impacts and health effects. LEO experts apply local and traditional knowledge, western science and modern technology to record and share observations and to raise awareness about the conditions in the circumpolar north.

Additionally, today the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) Tribal Climate Resilience Program will award $1.38 million to support internships for tribal youth working on projects or performing research directly related to climate change impacts. The Program will support internships and research related to climate change mitigation, adaptation, and ocean and coastal management.

Additional Nonfederal Actions:

Partnering at the forefront of community resilience in Southeast Alaska. The Sustainable Southeast Partnership (SSP) is announcing over $5 million in private sector commitments. SSP is a new partnership that approaches community and economic development by supporting projects and businesses that improve the economy, social structures of the communities, and well-being of the environment. Southeast Alaska communities face issues around environmental changes, high unemployment rates, sustainable resource management, energy independence, and food security. The partners will use the private funds in conjunction with public funding to support large-scale community forest and fisheries projects, new workforce development initiatives, a business development competition and a revolving loan fund–all rooted in environmental sustainability. SSP is comprised of Alaska Native tribes and corporations, regional economic development entities, conservation organizations, and local municipalities. Lead partners include Haa Aani, LLC., the Alaska Conservation Foundation, Southeast Conference, Sealaska, and The Nature Conservancy.

Understanding impacts to health in Alaska due to climate change. The University of Alaska Anchorage’s Institute for Circumpolar Health Studies (ICHS) today will release a report describing significant associations between unusual climatic conditions and increased incidence of injuries and respiratory problems in Alaska, and received $149,990 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to work with community partners to promote adaptations that reduce adverse health outcomes associated with climate change in rural and remote communities in the state. The ICHS, with funding from the CDC, has conducted two rounds of community-based sentinel surveillance of the health effects of climate change in Alaska.

Building Resilient Communities in the Tongass National Forest. Sealaska Native Corporation, the State of Alaska, Sustainable Southeast Partnership, U.S. Forest Service, Haa Aani’ Community Development Fund LLC, and several Native Village Corporations are announcing a new $9 million collaboration to focus on shared goals of community resilience. Communities, businesses, Native interests and conservation NGOs are leaving behind past conflicts over old growth logging on the Tongass National Forest and are working together to develop workforce and entrepreneurial capacity while accomplishing sustainable forest management into the future. These efforts will be supported by significant private and public sector support with more than $5 million in private funding and another $4 million in federal and state funding flowing into the region.

Expanding Access To Clean Energy Solutions:

Launching a remote Alaskan Communities Energy Efficiency Competition. Today, the Department of Energy is announcing that it will launch a new $4 million initiative to significantly accelerate efforts by remote Alaskan communities to adopt sustainable energy strategies, through a competitive effort to elicit the best approaches. The $4 million competition will empower Alaskan communities to develop solutions that can effectively advance the use of reliable, affordable, clean-energy and energy-efficient solutions that can be replicated throughout Alaska and potentially in other Arctic regions as well.

The initiative will support community efforts to adopt culturally and climate-appropriate energy-efficiency measures by evaluating community energy use; developing long-term, sustainable, and replicable energy-efficiency plans; and supporting the implementation of proposed plans.

Launching Clean Energy Solutions for Remote Communities (CESRC). On Tuesday, Dr. Holdren and Governor Walker hosted a roundtable including the Denali Commission, the Alaska Energy Authority, and The Renewable Energy Alaska Project as part of the launch of Climate Solutions for Remote Communities. Building on the Clean Energy Investment Initiative announced earlier this year, CESRC will focus on expanding investment in climate solutions for remote communities, including: (1) identifying the technological, financial, and logistical challenges and opportunities particular to clean energy innovation addressing the needs and unique circumstances of remote communities and (2) catalyzing the private-sector through a call to action to substantially increase investment to develop climate solutions addressing the unique issues facing remote communities. The Department of Energy will provide technical expertise to achieve these goals.

Energy costs are among the most significant expenses in remote communities, many of which rely on costly diesel generators to provide power and heat. Over the past decade, Alaska has focused on bringing cleaner, cheaper energy to our many isolated rural communities, where residents pay up to 50 percent of their household income on energy. Sustainably reducing energy costs, reducing carbon pollution, and improving the energy efficiency of homes and other buildings will require designing and deploying clean energy technologies and microgrids that are suited for remote communities. In June, the White House announced $4 billion of independent commitments by major foundations, institutional investors, and other long-term investors to fund climate change solutions, including innovative technologies with breakthrough potential to reduce carbon pollution, as part of the Clean Energy Investment Initiative.

Deploying clean energy and energy efficiency projects on Indian Lands. In support of the Obama Administration’s commitment to strengthening partnerships with Tribal Nations and to support tribal energy development, the Department of Energy today will announce up to $6 million to deploy clean energy projects and energy efficiency projects on Indian lands, reducing reliance on fossil fuel and promoting economic development. Through this Funding Opportunity Announcement, the Department’s Office of Indian Energy is soliciting applications from Indian tribes (including Alaska Native regional corporations and village corporations) and Tribal Energy Resource Development Organizations to install (1) facility-scale clean energy and energy efficiency projects and (2) community-scale clean energy projects on Indian lands. Tribal lands comprise nearly two percent of U.S. land, but contain about five percent of all the country’s renewable energy resources. With more than 9 million megawatts of potential installed renewable energy capacity on tribal lands, these tribal communities are well positioned to capitalize on their energy resources for local economic growth.

Lowering energy costs through High Energy Cost Grants in rural Alaska. USDA will award approximately $8 million in High Energy Cost grants, which assist power providers in lowering energy costs for families and individuals in areas with extremely high per-household energy costs. The Rural Utilities Service (RUS) High Energy Cost Grant program has provided over $48 million in grants for villages in rural Alaska since 2009. Among this year’s awards, RUS will provide $1.5 million to the Denali Commission to assist its partners in improving electric infrastructure in rural and remote villages in Alaska. Additionally, USDA RUS will release the 2015 Notice of Solicitation of Applications (NOSA), making available an additional $10 million in new grant funds.

Announcing Denali Commission grants in rural Alaska. The Denali Commission will announce approximately $15.5 million in grants to support bulk fuel facilities and rural power system upgrades/power generation across rural Alaska. Funds will be provided from the Denali Commission’s programmatic funds as well as the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Liability Fund (TAPL). Projects include:

  • Pilot Station community bulk fuel tank farm, a $4.7M total project cost ($3.8M in Denali Commission FY2015 TAPL funds and $900K in State of Alaska cost share match)
  • Togiak Power plant project, $7.8M total project cost ($4.2M in Denali Commission FY2015 Base funds, $1.4M in awardee cost share match, $2.2M RUS FY14 funds)
  • Koliganek Power plant project, $3.3M total project cost ($2.4M in Denali Commission FY2015 Base funds, $600K in State of Alaska cost share match, plus $300K from a prior year Commission grant for design)

Additional Nonfederal Actions:

Investing in biomimic clean energy. A partnership between The Village of Igiugig, Caltech, Stanford, and the University of Alaska will undertake tests of new wind turbines and has attracted $2 million in funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The partners are exploring a new approach to vertical axis wind power, using large sets of small and simple turbines, arrayed to mimic schooling fish. The biology-inspired engineering may provide wind solutions for the many areas globally where large turbines are not feasible. The project is just another example of how this small village in Bristol Bay is leading on issues of sustainability, climate change, and emerging clean energy technology. Igiugig has also partnered with Ocean Renewable Power Company to test fish-friendly, hydrokinetic power on the Kvichak River—the river is home to vast runs of wild sockeye salmon that have sustained the people of the region for thousands of years. Emerging technologies like these have the potential to meet community electricity demands in remote villages like Igiugig, where the cost of electricity ranges from 50 to 90 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Investing in LED technology in Anchorage. The Anchorage Mayor’s office is announcing a $4-6 million dollar plan to install LED roadway lighting across parking lots, roadways, garages, trails, and other outdoor lighting installations. In 2008, the city was the first in the world to replace over one quarter of its roadway lighting with LED technologies, saving the city $260,000 dollars a year and reducing energy consumption by nearly 60%. This effort made the city of Anchorage a model for other cities across the globe on how to finance and implement this breakthrough in outdoor lighting efficiency. Saving both energy and taxpayer dollars, the new lighting will also require less ongoing maintenance and reduce Sky-Glow.”

Announcing a public-private partnership to achieve 99.7 percent clean energy. In the coming days, Kodiak Island will begin testing a renewable-energy-powered shipping crane in a $3 million public-private partnership that will enable the island to become the first in the world to put flywheel and battery energy storage together to stabilize its variable electric power from wind turbines. The nation’s second largest island recently achieved 99.7 percent renewable-powered electricity from wind, hydro and now augmented by flywheels. The City of Kodiak, Matson, Inc. and Kodiak Electric Association (KEA), a nonprofit member-owned rural electric cooperative, combined efforts to finance this renewable power source for a newly-arrived shipping crane that is replacing the current diesel-powered crane. KEA completed a conversion to 99.7 percent renewable electricity by adding the energy storage to 9 MW of wind that complements the utility’s hydropower plant. Wind is now supplying approximately 20 percent of KEA’s load, displacing more than 2 million gallons of diesel every year. This conversion from fossil fuels has been supported by the State of Alaska’s Renewable Energy Fund, managed by the Alaska Energy Authority, in conjunction with strong local leadership from the Kodiak Electric Association.

Announcing a Clean Power Forum. In October 2015, the Alaska Center for the Environment will host a Clean Power forum, designed to kick off a series of conversations about how Alaska can reduce emissions, increase renewable energy production and energy efficiency measures, and become a true leader addressing climate change.

Releasing New Climate Data And Tools:

Mapping Alaska and the Arctic. Much of Alaska and the Arctic lack modern, reliable maps needed to support capabilities and activities including ground and air transportation, safe recreation, land management, sustainable development, and scientific studies. The Federal Government is taking action to meet this need:

  • The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and NSF are collaborating with the University of Minnesota’s Polar Geospatial Center and, the private sector to create the first-ever publicly available, high-resolution, satellite-based elevation map of Alaska by mid-2016, and of the entire Arctic by the end of the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council (mid-2017). These Digital Elevation Models (DEMs), derived from NGA-sponsored Digital Globe commercial imagery, will support informed land management, sustainable development, safe recreation, and scientific studies, as well as domain-specific challenges inherent to the aviation, transportation, and defense industries. In addition, the DEM will serve as a benchmark against which future landscape changes (due to, for instance, erosion, extreme events, or climate change) can be measured.
  • DOI/USGS, in partnership with the State of Alaska, is leading efforts to fly the Alaskan Arctic with new sensors, generating Interferometric Synthetic Aperature Radar (IfSAR) data that will complement Alaska and Arctic DEMs, improving maps and elevation models of these regions to unprecedented levels of accuracy.
  • NGA has developed and is making available in both hard-copy and explorable-digital formats the most comprehensive pan-Arctic map ever published by the U.S. Government. The map will include layers such as Arctic Routes, Arctic Currents, Oil Production Sites, Gas Production Sites, Oil Drilling Areas, Oil and Gas Reserves, Airfields and Ports, Bathymetric Data, Digital Terrain Elevation Data, and Natural Earth (including rivers, railroads, and populated places). The map will be easily accessible on the NGA’s website, along with links to Alaska DEMs, the NGA’s 28 nautical charts for the Arctic region, a collection of Arctic sailing directions, and links to other Arctic websites and resources.

Nonfederal entities are also stepping up to meet this challenge:

  • Esri is committing to deploy and provide easy access to DEMs as they are released, along with supporting maps and climate data, tools, and applications to improve climate resilience for citizens, communities, and companies in Alaska and the Arctic. Esri will also release newly developed tools for exploring and visualizing the new elevation data, including tools for generating on-the-fly renderings of various terrain properties and tools that help communicate the scale of glacial retreat.
  • As the DEMs are publicly released, Google will load these datasets into the Google Earth Engine platform and make them available to scientific partners who are monitoring the Earth’s changing environment. This will help researchers and other users analyze landcover change, predict coastal erosion, monitor changes in glaciers, and more accurately characterize water supplies, among other applications.

Expanding access to Arctic data and tools. The Administration is expanding its Climate Data Initiative (CDI) and Climate Resilience Toolkit (CRT) to include a new “Arctic” theme. The Arctic theme will encompass more than 250 Arctic-related datasets (32 of which are being made available for the first time), and more than 40 maps, tools, and other resources designed to support climate-resilience efforts in Alaska and the Arctic, including 10 “Taking Action” case studies in key areas of climate-change risks and vulnerability for Alaska and the Arctic. The Administration also recently expanded the CRT to include a new “Tribal Nations” theme, comprised of more than 40 resources—with more to be added in the future—to assist Tribal nations in climate-change planning, adaptation, and mitigation. Resources include a comprehensive Tribal Climate Change Adaptation Planning Toolkit, and a set of guidelines for considering traditional knowledge in climate change initiatives. These datasets and resources are now cataloged on, respectively, climate.data.gov and toolkit.climate.gov, making them easier for innovators, decision makers, and interested members of the public to find and use. In addition, the Administration is engaging the private sector around the CDI and CRT to help accelerate the development and deployment of products, tools, and applications powered by open Arctic data to help Alaskan and other northern communities better understand their vulnerability to, and prepare for, the impacts of climate change.


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